Remembering Dr. James S. Wefel, 1947-2012
Dr. James S. Wefel came to the UI College of Dentistry in 1972 after receiving his PhD in physical chemistry from the State University of New York, Buffalo. When his temporary employment evolved into a faculty position, he joined the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and became a research intensive faculty in the Dows Institute for Dental Research.
In 1990, Jim was appointed director of the Center for Clinical Studies and head of the division of cariology. Later, his administrative responsibilities increased even more: Jim took over directorship of the Dows Institute effectively and enthusiastically in 1993, and in 1999, he became administrative director of the Office of Clinical Research. When the Department of Pediatric Dentistry was searching for a new head in 2007, Jim stepped into the gap and successfully ran a large clinical department.
Jim received his first major grant in 1978 from the National Institute for Dental Research (now NIDCR) to study the kinetics and mechanisms of fluoride. This grant was later renewed three times. An intraoral crown model was developed by Dr. Wefel and a former faculty, Dr. Mark Jensen, in 1988 to measure changes in hard tissue lesions in a realistic environment. This model has been used in more than 20 studies and remains in use today.
During his 40 years at the College of Dentistry, he received NIDCR, NIH, industrial and foundation funding that shaped the future of research at the dental college.
An NIDCR short-term training grant that Jim Wefe lreceived in 1985 laid the groundwork for the College of Dentistry’s current dental student research program.
In 1991, an NIDCR grant that Dr. Wefel received, which was later renewed, helped fund the College’s Clinical Core
Center for Oral Health Research, the only center in the U.S. to focus on older patients and those who were at high risk for oral disease.
Dr. Wefel received an NIH program project grant in 1994 that helped establish the Specialized Caries Research Center.
In 2001, Jim received a program project award that was used to study early caries detection and intervention; it was renewed in 2006 for five more years. As a result of his research on the mechanism of the action of fluoride as well as early caries detection and intervention, Jim Wefel published more than 140 books chapters and journal articles. He was an invited speaker innumerable times, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Over the years, Jim also mentored more than 80 MS and PhD candidates.
Most of all, Jim Wefel was also an immeasurable mentor to colleagues and friends. His door was always open, and he was available to listen to problems, strategize, or simply be the sage he was. He often counseled students, residents, faculty, or staff who appeared unannounced on his doorstep. No one was ever turned away.
In 2000, Dr. Wefel was recognized for his accomplishments when he received the Regent’s Award for Faculty Excellence. His scientific expertise was also recognized internationally. In 1997 and again in 2010, Dr. Wefel received the prestigious International Association for Dental Research Distinguished Scientists E.W. Borrow Memorial Award. In 2012, Jim was recognized by the College for his 40 years of service.
We will miss Dr. James S. Wefel — and the College of Dentistry will remember his legacy. Jim is survived by his wife, Jan; their two sons, Jeff (Kelie and grandson, Gavin) and Jay (Kara and granddaughter, Sophia); his two brothers, John (Sandra) and Peter (Molly); and two nephews, Paul and Mark.
The family kindly requests that memorials be directed to The James S. Wefel Memorial Fund, c/o the U of I Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa, 52244-4550.